Munster 13 Glasgow Warriors 31: Thoughts that the blood on Gregor Townsend’s hands at Ravenhill on Saturday night was Anthony Foley’s proved unfounded as the Glasgow Warriors head coach looked forward to this Guinness Pro12 final victory providing a springboard to greater things for his club.
“I think I’ve mangled my hand,” Townsend said at the end of his post-match press conference as blood trickled from a finger. The former Scotland star was celebrating his first trophy as a coach but the minor injury had nothing to do with chewed fingernails.
Foley’s Munster ensured there was very little tension in Belfast at season’s end with a lacklustre first-half performance. For the large band of the province’s supporters in the 17,057 crowd, watching this was every bit as uncomfortable as this season’s European defeats at home to Clermont Auvergne and at Saracens.
Outclassed by a superior, more fluid and powerful Glasgow, Munster were also-rans in this final as early 31 minutes in, their defence ripped asunder and three tries down on a wet and chilly Ravenhill evening that proved a lousy send-off for the departing Paul O’Connell.
And as early as the 65th minute, as Munster trailed 28-13 and the life was sucked out of them by a stolen lineout, Glasgow’s supporters went into party mode, a piper playing Auld Lang Syne.
Yet as Al Kellock, another veteran lock playing his last game for a team he had served with distinction, came off the bench for the final 13 minutes and stole another lineout, it was Munster reeling like Hogmanay party-goers on Sauchiehall Street.
Even the scrum went south as the clock ticked down, Owens handing Glasgow a penalty which replacement fly-half elected Duncan Weir to kick with seven painful minutes still to endure for the Munster faithful.
It was a dismal end to Foley’s first campaign as head coach since succeeding Rob Penney and the former Heineken Cup-winning captain has a busy summer ahead to pick over the bones of a season that saw the door on Champions Cup progress from the pool firmly shut in January and a promising league run-in emphatically halted by Glasgow.
Foley was undoubtedly handed the toughest of European draws and the size of the task was magnified when he lost the services of scrum-half Conor Murray to a neck injury ahead of the Saracens debacle in north London in round five.
Nor was it a coincidence that Murray was missing on Saturday and for a nervy second half of last week’s semi-final at home to Ospreys, and Foley alluded to poor game management in the most important fixtures as the major work-on for next season. It certainly contributed to defeat against Glasgow when poor tactical kicking from fly-half Ian Keatley and others handed the Warriors’ strike runners invitations to wreak havoc repeatedly throughout the opening half-hour.
“I think when we get to the big games — you look at the Saracens game over there, you look at the Clermont game at home and the final here — the big games have been... we need to manage them better,” Foley said.
“There are times when we have done that, up at the Aviva (against Leinster) when we managed it quite well and the Saracens home game. It is probably getting a maturity to this group that they turn up and get a performance in.
“Today is bitterly disappointing but you look at the calibre of rugby that Glasgow had to play to beat us you kind of take your hat off to them. At times out there, if we had managed to get within a score of them, we could have pushed on and maybe got a bit more pressure on — it didn’t happen. We have a month to look at why and then we have two months to hammer them and see what happens to us in September.”
Foley now has a year to run on his contract and a trophyless first season will mean next season could turn into a pressure-filled campaign if Munster do not hit the ground running. He will have seen Leinster counterpart Matt O’Connor shown the door with a year to go on his deal having won the Pro12 at the first attempt 12 months ago but spoke positively about what the future holds in his native province.
“We changed our game from where it was last year (under Penney). We went back to what we felt was more suited to the players. It took us a while to get to grips with that. Obviously there were disruptions during the year.
"I think by the end of it when we got momentum post-European Cup campaign and we got some momentum during the Six Nations and post-Six Nations, I think we saw what we were capable of going to. During that time obviously there were fellas that emerged with genuine cases to start for Munster. That has brought in good selection headaches and hopefully we can build on that through the summer.
“We are going the right route, if we can maintain a lot of the good things we are doing as well. We won’t throw everything out. We need to find a few more subtleties to our game, we now have to take positives out of it. I think we gave away five penalties in a game that we conceded 30-odd points.
“Our set-piece, scrum, it didn’t matter what front-row we had on, I know Archie got a call late on when a scrum came across on him, but aside from that, we have a set-piece we can function off. Now it’s just about making use of the ball, making better decisions and equipping players with the right abilities to do that.”
F Jones; K Earls, A Smith, D Hurley, capt, S Zebo (R O’Mahony, 56); I Keatley (JJ Hanrahan, 56), D Williams (C Sheridan, 72); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin, 63), E Guinazu (D Casey, 63), BJ Botha (S Archer, 60); B Holland (J O’Donoghue, 60), P O’Connell; D Ryan, P Butler (S Dougall, 10-19, 72), CJ Stander.
S Hogg (S Lamont, 62); T Seymour, R Vernon, P Horne, DTH van der Merwe (N Matawalu, 71); F Russell (D Weir, 67), H Pyrgos; G Reid (J Yanuyanutawa, 78), D Hall (F Brown, 62), R de Klerk (J Welsh, 53); L Nakarawa (A Kellock, 67), J Gray; R Harley (C Fusaro, 60), R Wilson, J Strauss, capt.
Nigel Owens (Wales)
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved